Postbiotics – What are they and how do they work?

You’ve heard of antibiotics, probiotics and even prebiotics but what are Postbiotics?

Postbiotics are substances produced by the breakdown of probiotics and prebiotics in the gut. These include amino acids, vitamin A, vitamin K.

Postbiotics can have a variety of effects on the body, depending on the specific type of postbiotic and the context in which it is produced and consumed.

Some postbiotics, such as short-chain fatty acids (like butyrate / butyric acid), can be used as an energy source by the body.

Others, such as enzymes and bacteriocins, can have antimicrobial effects and help to protect against the growth of harmful bacteria. Postbiotics are found fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and in live yogurt and soft cheeses.

Postbiotics may also interact with the immune system and have anti-inflammatory effects.

Some research suggests that postbiotics may be able to influence the composition and function of the gut microbiome, which is the community of microorganisms that lives in the gut.

In Europe and the UK the use of the word probiotic/prebiotic/postbiotic is not legally allowed so the umbrella term is biotic.

This can lead to confusion over what does what so here’s a brief overview:

  • Probiotics are the healthy, or “friendly,” bacteria that live inside your gut and support your health by converting fiebr into compounds that have benefits for your health.
  • Prebiotics are a group of foods/nutrients, mainly fibre, that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
  • Postbiotics are the bioactive compounds the probiotic bacteria produce when they consume prebiotics (fibre).

Postbiotic supplements are not as widely available yet because they’re relatively new as compared with prebiotics and probiotics. Butyrate / Butyric Acid is one that is widely available.

Butyric Acid

Butyric acid has a number of potential health benefits, including acting as a source of energy for cells lining the colon and having anti-inflammatory effects. Some research has suggested that butyric acid may be helpful in the management of inflammatory bowel disease and may have a role in reducing the risk of colon cancer. It is often used to decrease brain fog and improve concentration. Some studies have shown that butyrate can lower cholesterol and blood pressure

Postbiotics and skin health

There is some evidence that postbiotics may have potential benefits for skin health. For example, some research has suggested that postbiotics may have anti-inflammatory effects that could be helpful in the management of certain skin conditions, such as acne and dermatitis.

Other potential benefits of postbiotics

Postbiotics have been associated with several other emerging health benefits, but more research is needed to determine the extent of these effects:

  • May help with allergies. A study in 34 adults with atopic dermatitis (eczema) found that supplementing with a postbiotic for 8–12 weeks significantly reduced the severity of the condition. In comparison, the placebo group saw no improvements.
  • May aid weight loss. A few studies suggest that postbiotics like short-chain fatty acids may aid weight loss by suppressing hunger signals.
  • May help lower the risk of heart disease. In animal studies, butyrate seems to help lower blood pressure and suppress genes that play a role in cholesterol production.
  • May help manage blood sugar levels. Studies suggest butyrate may help manage blood sugar levels
  • May be better tolerated than probiotics. When you consume probiotics, you increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your body. However, some people may not tolerate probiotics well, so postbiotics may be a more suitable alternative.

Are postbiotics suitable for everyone?

In general, postbiotics are considered safe and well-tolerated in healthy people. However, if you are sensitive to histamine or have MCAS or have gut issues, fermented foods, biotics and supplements should not be taken without consulting a healthcare practitioner.

These groups tend to have weaker or compromised immune systems and may therefore be at an increased risk of an adverse reaction

  • people who have recently had surgery
  • people who have structural heart disorders
  • people with digestive tract disorders
  • pregnant people (as well as avoiding unpasteurised cheeses and fermented products)
  • children (unless under the supervision of a professional)

Postbiotics summary

In general, postbiotics are safe and well-tolerated. However, due to potential health concerns, certain groups of people may want to avoid increasing their production of postbiotics. Butyric Acid / Butyrate is the most widely available postbiotic supplement and has been found to have benefit beyond digestion. Always consult a practitioner before increasing probiotic foods or supplementing.